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Berbere Spice Blend Recipe (በርበሬ)

Following the introduction of chilis from the Americas to East Africa, berbere spice has become a fundamental component of Ethiopian and Eritrean cooking. Each household has their own formula for this warm and spicy seasoning, but this version features a colourful blend of traditional ingredients that you can’t go wrong with. (Don’t worry if you’re missing a couple of the ingredients on the list; you’ll end up with a delicious spice mix even if you leave some of them out!)

plateful of spices for berbere seasoning

Capsicum and Fenugreek

According to Plant Genetic Resources of Ethiopia edited by Engels, Hawkes, and Worede, red pepper is the most essential and widely used spice in Ethiopia, and of course it forms the base of berbere seasoning. In fact, the Amharic word for chili pepper is በርበሬ or berbere!

Although every cook has their own unique blend, the critical ingredients that make a berbere a berbere are chili (Capsicum annuum) and also fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum).

As Loizzo et al. write in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, “the combination of fenugreek and red pepper is essential to Berbere; while one or two of the other ingredients may be left out, the fenugreek and red pepper are must-haves.”

FAQ

How is berbere traditionally used?

In traditional Ethio-Eritrean cooking, berbere is used to flavour a variety of saucy stews called wots or tsebhi, such as misir wot (lentil stew) and shiro wot (ground pea stew) which are then eaten together with injera, a fermented flatbread. It’s also used to flavour an Eritrean tomato sauce called silsi.

How long does freshly ground berbere keep for?

As a dried spice blend, it’s technically safe for eating indefinitely, but it will start losing its flavour in a few months. It’s best to finish it within half a year. If you’re worried about not using it up in time, you can also throw it in the freezer, where it will stay potent for years.

What are other uses for berbere?

You can use this spice blend in many non-Ethiopian/non-Eritrean recipes as well, and even as a replacement for regular chili powder. It works as a seasoning for these roasted cashews, or in place of the spices in this borani banjan (eggplant casserole) recipe. In Eritrea it’s also quite popular to add berbere to tomato sauce, for use in pastas, salads, etc.


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berbere seasoning
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Traditional Berbere Spice Blend (በርበሬ)

Berbere is an essential seasoning in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine, and can be used as all-purpose spice blend in any savoury recipe that calls for warm spices.
Prep: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Course: Seasoning
Cuisine: Eritrean, Ethiopian
Servings: 8 tbsp (1/2 cup total)
Calories: 22kcal
Cost: $0.15

Ingredients

  • 5 dried red chili peppers 5g
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika 15g; see Note 1
  • 1 tbsp paprika 7g; see Note 1
  • 1 tbsp ground dry ginger 6g
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds 7g
  • 5 korarima pods or 2 tsp powder 3g *can sub black cardamom
  • 2 timiz 4g *can sub 2 tsp black pepper
  • 7 whole cloves
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds 1g
  • 1 tsp garlic powder 3g
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds 1g
  • 1/2 tsp nigella seeds 1g
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 1g
  • 1/2 whole nutmeg 1g
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp mace

Instructions

  • Optional: Toast the whole spices in a dry saucepan on low heat for a couple of minutes.
  • Add all the ingredients to a spice grinder or high-speed blender and blend until finely ground.

Recipe Notes

  1. If you would like a hotter berbere, swap out the paprika with more dried chili pepper.
  2. The ingredients are listed in order of importance. If you don’t have some of the items near the bottom of the list (particularly the ones that are only 1 or 1/2 tsp), feel free to leave them out.

Did you make this recipe? Please consider leaving a rating and comment below to let me know how it went.

You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @earthtoveg #earthtoveg, I will shout you out in my Stories!

Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information

One full batch of homemade berbere spice blend costs $1.20 and makes 8 tablespoons, each containing 22 cal and releasing 6 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

To reach the global Paris Agreement emissions target, it’s recommended to limit daily carbon emissions from food to 3,050 kgCO2e/day per person.

Nutrition data is provided by Cronometer (click the link at the bottom of the nutrition label to learn more). Feel free to contact me for sources on the cost and carbon emissions information presented here. I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.

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2 thoughts on “Berbere Spice Blend Recipe (በርበሬ)”

  1. 5 stars
    We absolutely love Ethiopian food and this stuff is exactly what I’m looking for. can you post some recipes with it??

    1. Hey Norman, glad you found the post helpful! I’m getting close to publishing recipes for misir wot and shiro wot which both use berbere, stay tuned 🙂

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